Tuesday, 1 April 2008

On buying things online and the power of the personalised experience

A friend recommended this Best Buy deal on a Canon Powershot 12.1MP camera. A quick Google search came up with this better Amazon.com deal.
It just goes to show the power of the Internet for deal-finding...if you're not the best price on the block, you're going to be found out pretty easily.

What will differentiate your site as a reseller then? It has to be the personalised experience.

Looking more closely, BestBuy's overview page is pretty brief. The "related items" listing has associated accessories, but because I know it's at the end a website for a chain of stores with inventory I don't know if that's what other people are buying or just what BestBuy is pushing.
The presence of multiple Best Buy locations also indicates to me that I can go and try it out before buying to make sure what I see is indeed what I do get.

In this example, I am an amateur photographer, so I need the layman's guide to making a good choice. The camera is pretty nice, and I like taking pictures but I have no idea of what a professional looks for in buying a digital camera.
Amazon.com's page has been more designed with me in mind. The product page focuses on educating the viewer in terms of similar items bought, product reviews, customer reviews and related recommendations that link to pages that are just as informative about alternatives.
It feels less of a "buy me" page, and more of a "learn about me and products like me" page. One key element, the "What Customers Are Buying" section, definitely helps to convey this effect.
What it risks though is becoming an overload of information by having all of this information on one page.

If I were new to buying online, I think the Amazon.com experience would make me more likely to come back to Amazon.com to search for my next purchase of an item I know very little about. My personalised experience with the website in trying to learn how to evaluate a good camera has lent itself to that.
Since I've bought from Amazon.com before and am logged in, I'll also have personal recommendations of items that are closely related to what I bought or viewed. These recommendations are usually spot on in terms of what I would buy. The personal experience will continue.
To borrow from the analogy inside Malcolm Gladwell's talk on Spaghetti Sauce, Amazon.com lets now find my "perfect pepsi" in a world of "perfect pepsis" more quickly than I would with the BestBuy.com experience.

In the end if I choose to buy this particular camera, I'll buy it from the Amazon.com website, because no matter the experience, the better price will win out for me once the after sales service and warranty support are there.
If there was a Best Buy close by, I would also walk into the store to try the camera out before I bought it online at the best price. That part of the personal experience BestBuy has won on. I don't know how many other consumers are that cautious before making a purchase though.

What is the lesson then?
If I were starting an online retailing store, I'd remember two things.
1. The personalised experience using a website is a value-added tool, and not the magic bullet for making the sale online.
2. Combined with the ingredients that make a traditional store successful, such as best prices, after-sales service and warranty/returns policy, and technology innovations such as personalised recommendations that I agree with, it's pretty close to being a magic bullet for making the sale online.

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